School Zone: Maryland’s Safe Walk to School Act becomes law

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

Safe Walk to School Act now in effect in Maryland

What it is: Shortly after Maryland Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery County) was elected, safety advocate Kristy Daphnis said in a Facebook post that she met him at a Wheaton IHOP to propose a pedestrian safety plan.

After the meeting, Solomon considered ways to address pedestrian safety. In the last General Assembly session, he introduced the Safe Walk to School Act, which calls for a pedestrian safety plan to be drafted before a new school is built or when 100 or more seats are added to an existing school.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan didn’t sign the legislation, but after passing both chambers, it became law Friday. The pedestrian safety plan will be required for Maryland jurisdictions seeking state funding to create a new school or expand an existing one.

What it means: In April, Solomon said some schools are in neighborhoods not designed to be “community friendly,” pointing to Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington, near Connecticut Avenue, as an example.

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The law is the latest in a series of D.C.-area initiatives aimed at keeping students walking and biking to school safe.

Under the law, the state highway administration, in collaboration with local transportation agencies, will, work to identify existing safe routes for students to walk or bike to school, and analyze existing and potential school zones to decide whether there’s a need to expand them on state or county roads.

Regional snapshot: The Safe Walk to School Act received bipartisan support and includes Anne Arundel, Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties by name, but pedestrian safety has been top of mind for several D.C.-area leaders.

Earlier this week in Alexandria, Virginia, school and county officials detailed plans to place five speed cameras in school zones by early 2023. The project was funded in the city’s fiscal 2023 budget. Virginia’s code was changed in 2020 to allow speed cameras to be placed in school and work zones.

And weeks after two pedestrians were killed in Oakton, Virginia, outgoing Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said he learned of community concerns regarding the stretch of road where the incident occurred. The school system’s budget for fiscal 2023 includes funding for its Safe Routes to School program.

Talking points: Jon Korin, president of the group Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, told WTOP biking to school is only as safe as the worst stretch of road a cyclist may encounter.

“Making sure that we provide safe routes from neighborhoods where people live to important destinations, destinations like school, is absolutely vital to the decision to ride and then to assuring the safety of children when they do ride,” said Korin, who testified in favor of the legislation.

Some opponents of the legislation, such as Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said school systems shouldn’t be responsible for crafting pedestrian safety plans.

“Local school systems do not have any control over sidewalks or bike paths that extend beyond the edge of our public school property lines,” Anne Arundel schools wrote in its testimony. “Any identified gaps would be outside the school district’s ability to remedy.”

[Read more about the Safe Walk to School Act on]

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

Student shots: At a D.C. Council hearing this week, city officials said more than 27% of D.C. students are missing routine vaccinations.

D.C. law requires students to be caught up on their shots before attending school. If immunizations can’t be verified, students will be removed from class.

About 28,000 students in D.C.’s public, public charter, parochial, and independent schools have fallen behind on vaccinations.

Outgoing Fairfax Co. superintendent reflects on great debates that marked his tenure

Michelle Reid took the oath of office Thursday night, becoming the next superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools.

Scott Brabrand, who led the school system for five years, spoke to WTOP this week about the pandemic, the admission policy at Thomas Jefferson High for Science and Technology and the future of education in Virginia.

Listen to Brabrand’s remarks on the DMV Download podcast below.

What Scott’s Reading

  • Lawsuits target Fairfax County school board sex-assault response [WTOP]
  • New DC library welcomes residents, honors community activist [WTOP]
  • Two teens fatally shot during violent weekend in D.C. [Washington Post]
  • Free meals unlikely in new school year [InsideNova]
  • Staffing shortages push MCPS summer school program students online [Bethesda Beat]
  • California late start law aims to make school less of a yawn [WTOP]
  • Alexandria to interview auditor/investigator candidates for Community Policing Review Board [ALXNow]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

BBQ and Nats Park: An early July Fourth BBQ is in store Saturday, and then we’re off to Nats Park on Sunday to see them face the Marlins. And speaking of July Fourth, WTOP has everything you need to know to plan your holiday weekend online.

Keep in touch: Have a school story idea we should know about? Send it to

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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